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Story Highlights

  • The consultation received recommendations and concerns from representatives of a wide array of sectors.
  • There was general consensus among the group for an increase ranging from six per cent to 30 per cent.
  • Concern expressed over the exploitation of employees in establishments such as certain haberdasheries and retail entities

The Minimum Wage Advisory Commission (MWAC) on September 26, concluded its series of island-wide consultations on the national minimum wage, at a two-hour session held at the Ministry of Labour and Social Security in Kingston.

The consultation received recommendations and concerns from representatives of a wide array of sectors central to the discussions on the national minimum wage.

These included private sector entities, and groups such as, the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU), the Sugar Producers Federation of Jamaica, the Jamaica Employers’ Federation (JEF), the Household Workers Association, as well as governmental agencies such as the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), the HEART Trust/NTA, and the Bureau of Women’s Affairs.

There was general consensus among the group for an increase ranging from six per cent to 30 per cent, as well as an endorsement for fixed periods of two to three years, for increases.

Chief Executive Officer of Manpower and Maintenance Services Limited, Audrey Hinchcliffe, argued that the way in which increases in the national minimum wage are currently administered poses significant challenges for companies in terms of reconfiguring contracts, and collecting retroactive payments. She suggested that the increases should be tied to macroeconomic factors, such as inflation.

Mrs. Hinchcliffe urged the government to consider other forms of support and benefits for minimum wage workers, such as transportation subsidies and called on individual companies to examine innovative means of easing the economic burden of their workers, such as discount arrangements with retailers.

Security and Safety Manager of the HEART Trust/NTA, Suzanne Scarlette, who spoke specifically to wages for security personnel, advocated for minimum incremental increases over fixed periods.

“This is so that we would know in advance that this is the thought process going for the next five or six years, as opposed to a sudden 10 per cent,” she said.

Security officer, Wayne Hanchard, while suggesting a 30 per cent increase in minimum wages for that group, expressed concern over what he said, is the “exploitative treatment” of workers by companies, and lack of benefits. He called for the Ministry to investigate the flouting of the law by some security companies, which pay below the minimum wage.

Meanwhile, a concerned member of the public, Senu Virtue-Burke, suggested that the minimum wage be increased from $5,000 weekly to $7,000. She asserted that the increase would enable minimum wage earners, who are among the most vulnerable groups in the society due to their limited income, to be better able to contribute to the National Housing Trust and the National Insurance Scheme.

Ms. Virtue-Burke highlighted the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing/NHT/Food for the Poor low-income housing scheme, which is accessible to workers, who earn $5,000 to $7,000 weekly.

In his remarks, Assistant General Secretary of the JCTU, Keith Comrie expressed concern over the exploitation of employees in establishments such as certain haberdasheries and retail entities, which often pay below the minimum wage.

“They don’t get a payslip…it is wrong…we must have a wage that they (employers) don’t exploit our workers …there must be other benefits than the bare minimum wage, and that must take into consideration…cost of living,” he said.

Meanwhile, Director of Industrial Relations and Training at the Sugar Producers Federation of Jamaica, Michael Martin, recommended an increase of six per cent. Explaining his rationale, Mr. Martin pointed out that some sugar industry workers receive other benefits, which complete their remuneration package.

“Most of the workers – we have task-based rates and time-based rates. For the time-based rates, they mainly work at the factory, so although you might have a minimum wage of $5,300 per week, you’re talking about adding a shift premium, an out of base allowance, a meal allowance, …some of them (the allowances) is a percentage of what the basic rate is, so with any increase in the minimum wage, all of these would also go up,” he outlined. Mr. Martin also suggested applying trade/industry specific minimum wage rates.

Presenting the PIOJ’s submission to the Commission, Labour Market Analyst at the agency, Deidra Coy, said the PIOJ recognises the importance of the minimum wage in providing a foundation for creating and maintaining an adequate wage structure.

She said the agency also recognises the importance of ensuring that workers receive remuneration that allow a reasonable degree of security and enable them to live with some amount of dignity.

Ms. Coy noted that the government continues to provide measures to cushion economic conditions, by expanding and improving social protection for the most vulnerable. She highlighted the increase of 15 per cent for Programme for Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) beneficiaries, and post-secondary grant; expanded school feeding programme; and transportation allowance. She pointed out that many PATH households include minimum wage earners.

She added that the government is in the process of developing a strategy, which will facilitate a much wider social protection framework. The PIOJ has proposed a nine per cent increase in the minimum wage.

Commissioner Bernita Locke, assured that all submissions and concerns would be presented to Labour Minister, Hon. Derrick Kellier for consideration in arriving at an increase in the minimum wage.

Chairman of the Commission, Silvera Castro, reminded that the minimum wage is a guide for employers. “Those who can pay more, pay more…government alone can’t do everything, we must assist the process,” he stated.

Other members of the Commission include: Danny Roberts; and Latoya McCatty (Secretary).

The national minimum wage was last increased in September 2012, from $4,500 to $5,000 per 40-hour work week, while the minimum wage for security guards was also increased from $6,655 to $7,320 per 40-hour work week.

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